The most significant change I have realized this summer involves what it means to volunteer. I remember first learning about DukeEngage during an information session in the fall. I heard about the wide range of programs offered in different locations worldwide and wondered what it would be like to go on each one. In DukeEngage Zhuhai, volunteers work with children at a local school teaching English through visual arts. In DukeEngage Seattle, volunteers work at local nonprofits whose missions are to serve specific populations within the community. Why does one program look like the students volunteer more than the other?
Different problems require specific, unique solutions, which explains why the various DukeEngage sites are hard to compare. I applied to DukeEngage Seattle for many reasons, but most accurately summarized with the tired phrase “it was the best fit for me.” I understood what this summer of volunteering necessitated and approved of it, so why do I feel hesitant to say I volunteered? Is it because I don’t understand how this volunteering measures next to the other volunteering going on through DukeEngage?
The change I referenced took place earlier this week when I realized that being a volunteer is an open-ended term. Stephanie and I discuss our work and impact at Amara on a daily basis, reminding each other to think of the bigger picture when we feel tired or encouraging each other to eat Molly Moon’s when were hungry, which is all the time. It was during these conversations that I grasped that ‘volunteering’ encompasses different types of work and represents the broader concept of contributing to a bigger cause without being rewarded for the work done. However, we’re getting more out of this summer than we’re giving right? Heidi Breeze-Harris said so at the dinner last week, and I agree with her. So is that why I’m confused about labeling my summer as a “summer of service”?
I finally saw the missing piece that all of my questions were directing me towards today at the bimonthly all staff meeting. One member of the development team was discussing how non-development team members, like social workers, can contribute to Amara’s capital campaign efforts. She told them rather simply to keep up the good work they were doing with the children and to have patience with the communication and development staff as they work to raise awareness and recruit more partners within the community. It finally clicked that we were all here for the same reason, to serve the children of this community, but we accomplished this in many different roles.
More specifically, Stephanie and I are not actively getting more children adopted or placed with forever families, but we are helping others do so. By doing smaller projects or assisting with everyday management chores, we can let the other employees focus on improving their work. Yes, we are still benefiting from our volunteer work this summer, but that doesn’t diminish the quality of the work we’re doing.
Service is not simple, so I cannot expect a simple answer to these many questions. If there is one thing I can expect, it is that this education never really ends. I will always have questions about the work I’m doing, but I now have a solid grasp on what being a community partner entails and how to assess the relationships that come through volunteering for others. I’m appreciative of this information and hope to augment it in the next ten days and throughout my time at Duke. I recognize these lessons as the kind you don’t forget once the test is over, but find yourself reminded of again and again in future classes. DukeEngage Seattle is almost finished, but the work we’re doing is far from complete. This is a community service and engagement initiation for many of us, and I know there’s only more to come.